South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

Length: 7.5 inches Wingspan: 10.5 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Black upperparts and hood, rufous sides, white underparts, red eye.  Note lack of white spots that are seen on the very similar Spotted Towhee.

Eastern Towhee - Pipilo erythrophthalmusThe Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee were formerly considered separate races of the same species, the Rufous-Sided Towhee (a name which is no longer used).  The two are very similar, but differ in range, as the Spotted Towhee is mostly a western U.S. bird while the Eastern Towhee is an eastern U.S. bird.  The Eastern Towhee also lacks the Spotted Towhee's white spots on its back and wings.  The two species may interbreed where their ranges overlap. 

Habitat: Prefers brush and thickets, usually as the understory to a forest/woodland.

Diet: Insects, fruits and berries, seeds, nuts, occasionally small reptiles, amphibians, and snakes.

Behavior: Eastern Towhees prefer to forage on the ground, scratching through leaf litter for food.  They will also clamber through shrubs and trees in search of food.

Nesting: June and July

Breeding Map: Breeding bird survey map not available, as the Eastern Towhee was only recently split from the former Rufous-Sided Towhee. That breeding map primarily shows the other member of the split, the Spotted Towhee.

Song: Eastern Towhee Song, also Eastern Towhee Call

Migration: Northern populations (including those in South Dakota) migrate south in the fall.

Similar Species: Spotted Towhee

Bird Feeders: Will attend feeders for suet and some seeds.

Conservation Status: Has declined in the northeastern U.S.

South Dakota "Hotspot": Newton Hills State Park in Lincoln County usually is very reliable for finding Eastern Towhees in the summer months.  Look through the brush along Sergeant Creek, near the horse and camping area on the northeastern side of the park. 

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Eastern Towhee

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Eastern Towhee"

3) eNature.com: Eastern Towhee

Photo Information: May 13th, 2001 - Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Eastern Towhee photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Eastern Towhee - Pipilo erythrophthalmus - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant in the eastern half of the state.  Uncommon summer breeder in the southeastern corner of the state